In mid-March, 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg inspired a coordinated strike by an estimated 1.4 million students at 2,000 locations in 123 countries. Those students all walked out of class to demand accelerated action on climate change. Attention on the environment has never been higher, and with the youth of the world committed to the green cause, it’s reasonable to assume that expectations on environmental protection and sustainability will only increase.
The fashion sector, of course, has taken note.
Global fashion production is estimated to exceed 100 billion garments a year, as clothing production has doubled in the past 15 years. The environmental footprint of the fashion industry cannot be ignored nor underestimated.
As a result, many leading fashion brands have adopted environmental programs aimed at reducing their carbon footprint and unnecessary waste, and many have already made significant progress.
As consumer expectations for sustainability gain momentum, fashion brands will face more pressure. And as the youth of Generation Z join their millennial counterparts in the workforce (and as they become more active fashion consumers), green consciousness will spread quickly throughout every segment of the industry.
Here at Aptos, we have long been discussing what we can do to support our customers as they embrace more sustainable production and merchandise lifecycle management methods. We are constantly evaluating how we can evolve our technology to better support brands and retailers as their sustainability programs mature. We believe that PLM in particular holds strong potential. Well-executed PLM strategies can foster more targeted innovation that reduces stocks, minimizes waste in pre-production phases, and increases both transparency and efficiency through every step of the product lifecycle.
Here are four ways in which PLM can support sustainable fashion:
- Bringing innovation closer to the market while reducing oversampling and stock
Strategic and business objectives are not always clearly communicated to the design team. Reconciliation is often done too late in the process, resulting in collections that are not aligned to targets, excessive reworking, sample proliferation and, in the end, high product development costs and excessive waste.
PLM systems that integrate planning and design capabilities into a single workflow can have a positive impact on collection profitability and sustainability. Designers benefit from the strategic direction and market insights that planners can provide from the earliest phases of development. Without losing sight of creativity, innovation gets closer to market and to the business as all functions share the same perception of the product right from the beginning.
Tight alignment that begins with the first stages of design translates into a higher ratio of optimal samples that are generated and confirmed, more consistent product offers that meet customers’ tastes and preferences, and less reworking and waste throughout the supply chain.
- Formalizing environmental and CSR programs to give customers products they can trust
Recent studies reveal that 87% of customers consider corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their buying decisions, and that given “similar price and quality,” 91% of consumers are likely to switch to brands that relate to a good cause. Environmental and CSR capabilities within PLM technology can help fashion brands standardize their programs and how they execute them. Codes of conduct, including procedures governing human rights and environmental protection, can be published internally and to suppliers, including related audit calendars.
Audit results can then be monitored, and any required corrective actions can be communicated to noncompliant partners, complete with dates for rectification. As more companies adopt more strategic approaches to environmental issues, PLM can help companies formalize their actions and measure the business value of their initiatives as they attempt to deliver truly ethical and eco-friendly products.
- Digitalizing preproduction processes with augmented reality to reduce sampling
Prototyping and sampling in fashion are as critical as they are complex. Modifications and adjustments often go back and forth several times. There are often many interactions and many people involved (either directly or indirectly) in the process: designers, buyers, production, quality control analysts and partners. Thanks to augmented reality, advanced PLM solutions can disrupt the process and make it completely digital. Everyone involved in the process can visualize the style, each with different scales and perspectives. All parties can add design notes and share comments and amendments until agreement is reached. The entire process is streamlined and sustainable, as no fabrics or manufacturing resources are engaged until the final style is confirmed for production.
- Managing end of life to promote an increasingly circular economy
We believe that the next frontier of PLM will be managing the end of the product lifecycle. Until now, PLM systems have managed products from design to shelf. This was considered the complete garment lifecycle. Now, with an emphasis toward recycling and upcycling, this paradigm needs to change. The end of life of the product is no longer when the product is sold; it’s when the product – after having been used – is returned to the retailer to be given a new life.
PLM systems should be enhanced to manage these new phases of the product lifecycle and address the following questions:
- How many products are returned after use?
- How many components can be re-utilized and given new use?
- How much can we recycle, and what is the impact on the environment and the business?
Just as they do throughout all other phases of the product lifecycle, PLM systems’ next frontier is to evolve to coordinate these new processes while quantifying the results.
Would that be critical? Very much so. In our journey to sustainable fashion, we can only improve what we can track and measure.
If you would like to share your thoughts on fashion sustainability and how technology such as PLM can help, I encourage you to reach out to me on LinkedIn.